Everybody loves Christmas music, but some of the students just aren’t ready for reading them. Here’s a fun way to incorporate a lot of Christmas music into a lesson, regardless of the student’s level. Naturally, you could do this at any time of year with other lead sheets.
What You Need:
- Christmas lead sheets, such as:
- Angels We Have Heard on High in C, G, D, F
- Deck the Halls in C, G, D, and F
- Jingle Bells in C, G, D, or F
- Oh, Come All Ye Faithful in C, G, D, and F
- Silent Night in C, G, D, F
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas in C, G, D, and F
- A bottle
- Lay the lead sheets out on the floor in a circle, with the bottle in the middle.
- I put out a stack for each song, with all key signatures in the stack, but that’s optional.
How to Play:
- Have the student spin the bottle. Whichever page it points to is your lead sheet for the round.
- Depending on the level, you can do one of the following:
- Student plays root note only. Teacher plays the melody.
- Teacher may need to point to each measure to keep the student on track.
- Student plays root chord only. Teacher plays the melody.
- Student plays a basic pattern, such as oom-pa-pa or Alberti bass. Teacher plays the melody.
- Student makes up their own accompaniment pattern. Teacher plays the melody.
- Student sight reads the melody. Teacher plays an accompaniment.
- Student plays the melody with root chords below.
- Student plays the melody with an accompaniment pattern below.
- When you’ve gone through the song, spin again for another one.
- Most of the variation comes in what part you have the student play, but you can also make it harder or easier by controlling the key signature. My beginners played only in C major. My more advanced started in C major, but if they spun the same song twice, the second time I changed the key.
A musical motif is a device that most of my students don’t arrive at naturally. It needs explanation, and here is a great way to do it.
What You Need:
- These cards, printed and cut up
- A die
- Game Pieces
- Remove any cards you don’t want to use.
- Starting with “Start,” lay the cards out face down on the floor like a board game. You can make loops and swirls and short cuts to make it more interesting. End with the “Finish” card.
- Place your two game pieces on Start.
How to Play:
- First explain the concept of a motif.
- A motif is a very short musical idea. (Two measures maximum for this game.)
- For example, the first line of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” the first measure of the “Imperial March” from Star Wars, the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, etc.
- Our ears like repetition, but they also get bored. Composers use motifs to create melodies by modifying their motif just enough that it stays interesting, but not so much that we can’t identify it as the same motif.
- Both the student and the teacher need to come up with a motif in the key of C major. Keep it simple. Make the student play their idea several times until they can remember it consistently. When he can reliably play it back, he’s ready to play.
- The student rolls the die and advances his game piece that many cards forward. Then he needs to return to the piano and play his same motif, but with the modifications specified on the card (i.e., with a different key, tempo, rhythm, etc.)
- Some modifications are easier than others. You can keep score by assigning points for difficulty. Or you can ignore scores and just play to see who gets to finish first.
- The teacher takes a turn with her own motif.
- The first one to the finish line wins. (Or the one who collects the most difficulty points wins, if you are playing with points.)
- To make it easier, only place out the easiest cards, such as dynamic changes and changing one note.
- To make it harder, remove the easier cards, such as dynamic changes and changing one note.
- To make it spookier, create your motif in A minor and remove all the cards that have major key signatures.
The black cat strut is not my own activity. It comes from 88 Piano Keys. My students enjoyed it so much this year, I wanted to remember it, plus a few notes from my experience.
- As she recommends, I didn’t show my students anything. It was entirely done by memory and ear.
- For the youngest students, you can give them just three melody notes: C, D, E.
- More advanced students can handle all the ones she mentions in the instructions.
- If the student hasn’t learned dotted quarter note rhythms yet, just explain the left hand pattern as a dotted half note and a quarter note.
- I don’t have iRealPro, so I didn’t use her recorded drum beat. It’s a great improv even without it.
This hardly counts as a game in and of itself, but I made it up this week to use in conjunction with Skeleton, Human or Monster? Most of my students were drilling note names, but several are beyond needing that so we drilled this instead. You could use it with anything in my How to Drill Anything series.
What You Need:
- Notecards that have the keys you want to practice
- I always start with C major, G major, D major, and F major. If they’re doing well on those, then expand to A major, E major, B-flat major, and E-flat major.
- You can use generic note name cards, or write it out on index cards. It won’t take more than 30 seconds to create.
- Blank Die
- These things cost 29 cents at my local teacher supply store and are invaluable.
- On the die, use a sharpie marker to write on the six sides: I, IV, IV, V, V, and *
How to Drill:
- Student draws a card. That determines the key signature.
- Student rolls the die. That determines which chord they need to name in that key signature.
- For example: in the key of C major, the IV is F major, in D major, the V chord is A major.
- The asterisk can change meaning depending on the student.
- If the student’s doing well, use it to call out another chord, such as the vi chord or the iii chord.
- If the student’s struggling with the concept, use it to mean roll again.
Most of the kids love improv, and this activity has the advantage of developing their sense of beat and musicality at the same time.
What You Need:
- A spinner (or 2 dice if you prefer)
- A blank piece of paper
- Coin for tossing (optional)
- If you are using a spinner, place it in the center of your page and section off the paper (see the picture). In each section, write one way to change up an improv. For example, change dynamic, change accompaniment pattern, change articulation, change key signature, change tempo, teacher’s choice, student’s choice, spin again, etc.
- If you are using dice, write down the numbers 2-12 and assign each number one of the ways to change up an improv.
How to Play:
- Explain that this improv game is going to use a chord progression: I – IV – V – I if the student’s had enough music theory to understand that or Cmaj – Fmaj – Gmaj – Cmaj if they haven’t. Each chord is going to get one full measure, so the improv will be a four measure improv. Play each of those block chords as whole notes for the student. That is how long they have to create an improvised melody and return to the home note (or tonic).
- To start with the most basic improv, the teacher will play those four measures while the student improvises a melody. You can do this several times if the student needs help understanding when to wrap up the melody.
- After that it is time to mix things up. Have the student spin the spinner or roll the dice. Whereever they land, they need to follow those instructions (change the dynamic, tempo, etc.). If they land on change the accompaniment, move out of block chords into some other pattern, like arpeggios, oom-pa, etc., but keep the chord progression the same.
- Repeat as many times as you have time for.
- Depending on the level of the student, you can either make each new spin a fresh improv or you can make the changes cumulative so that you end up playing, for example, in D major, presto, and fortissimo all at the same time.
- Also depending on the level of the student, you can flip the coin each time to determine who is on melody and who is doing the accompaniment.